Sonny’s Smokin Showdown, Orlando, FL


By Brian Walrath, Pitmaster of Brown Liquor BBQ

I was honored to be asked by champion pitmaster Mark Gibbs of Checkered Flag 500 BBQ to tag along and help him cook the prestigious Sonny’s Invitational event in Orlando, Florida.  Along with fellow pitmaster Don Wallace of Life if Good But BBQ is Better, we headed down for the event on Wednesday night.  Our first destination of the weekend was just outside Atlanta to pick up Mark’s trailer that had been resting there since a recent cooking class at the Deep South Smoker’s headquarters in Cumming, Georgia.  Sitting in a pick-up truck with two fellow pitmasters for several hours on the road can lead to some interesting discussion.  From rules, to smokers, to the best gas stations to stop at led the initial discussion during this first part of the trek.  Throw in several movie quotes from Caddy Shack, Stripes, The Hangover, Animal House, etc…and you can imagine the direction we were headed!

Thursday morning brought us to the trailer and all was well to hook up and go…well, all except one minor detail of Mark forgetting the key.  With the handy work “Deep South McGyver,” and a wire, we were hooked up shortly thereafter and on our way for the open road from Atlanta to Orlando.  Well, except that Atlanta has quite possibly the worst traffic ever…and I’m from DC!

Our seven hour drive on Thursday took about 12 or 13 but we finally arrived around midnight at Camping World Stadium, site of the event!  Many teams were already there.  We quickly dropped the trailer, grabbed a beer and walked around a bit to get a lay of the land.  It was pretty quiet so Don and I headed over to the hotel…but not before catching Llama Gratis on TV!!!

Friday morning we arrived at the site and got settled in.  Two ancillary categories were happening this weekend and Mark turned over the keys to Don and I to do them.  First off was one of the new SCA Steak competitions.  We had a good time cooking on Sharon Gibb’s new Deep South Mailbox and cooked a might tasty steak.  We didn’t fare well in the results, but we had fun trying!  Fast forward here briefly to the mystery meat category on Saturday and again we didn’t fare well in the results but our tri tip street taco with cilantro lime slaw topped with queso fresco we thought was amazing!

Mark’s cook went well and we turned everything in on time despite Don figuring out our comp clock was six minutes off!!  (Those who know Don well can imagine the anxiety this may have caused!).  Everything was solid but the brisket was incredible.  The judges agreed and awarded CF500 its sole walk of the day, 10th place brisket.  The team finished 27th out of 49 teams with a 690…yes, a 690!!  In this field of all past champions, that’s not too shabby!  Congratulations to Iowa’s Smokey D’s on GC and Shake ‘N Bake BBQ on reserve.

Special thanks to Mark and Don for a great weekend.  I do have note the amazing feat by Mark on the way home.  We pulled out of Sonny’s Saturday night around 7pm.  Mark drove all night and had us home by early Sunday morning…amazing…perhaps a little foolish, but we made it safe!

Click here for the full results from the Sonny’s Invitational.

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